A life lived with zest

There will be singing and possibly a skit; tributes and no doubt a few poems. And laughter. I’m certain, there will be lots of laughter. It’s the way Andrew Rodman wanted it.

As many of you know, Andrew, 54, died at his Portland home on Jan. 7, six years and two months after doctors diagnosed him with inoperable stage four pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. With the 2010 diagnosis came news that he had roughly a year to live.

One year later, I interviewed him in his Newport living room. He told me when doctors delivered the fatal prognosis, his response was “Screw you.”

“I didn’t want anyone spinning me fairy tales, but I wanted to get some sense of a proactive narrative here.”

As it turned out, chemo had shrunk the tumor enough to make surgery possible. His doctors confirmed they could find no sign of the cancer. He was something of a miracle man, a puzzle, a mystery, but more than anything, a cause for celebration. If Andrew could … Readers called wanting to know how to contact him. What was his secret?

Certainly, his approach of mixing holistic and traditional medicine helped, and there’s no doubt the new love of his life, Terry Waldron, was a huge part of it. They met at Café Mundo only four months before Andrew got the grim news. By then, they were already in love. There was no turning back. They married in 2013.

“It was kind of love at first sight,” Terry said. “I thought Andrew was the most unique human being I’d ever met.”

The cancer did return or at least come out of hiding, and yet still Andrew kept on. He surfed, he rode his bike, he kayaked, he worked, editing the organic agriculture publication In Good Tilth. As he always had, he kept right on living.

And thinking about it, I’ve come to believe that a big part of what kept Andrew here so much longer than anyone would have predicted was his indomitable spirit. As Terry put it, ‘Andrew grabbed life by the balls and refused to let go.’

“He had such spirit,” she said. “He was a mature adult with a child’s capacity for play and laughter. He had an easy smile. Easy laughter. He had the manner to have fun and play and his sense of adventure...

“He had a vitality for life. He loved life more than anybody I know. He really did love it. He also said he didn’t have a bucket list because he had done everything he wanted to do in life. He really did more than anyone I know.”

Andrew quit surfing last winter. He no longer had the strength. The final decline had begun, though once again he defied the doctor’s predictions. When I saw him at my book launch in August, I did not see a dying man. I saw a guy who was very much living. When I confided that I was a nervous wreck about reading to the crowded room from my new novel, he offered, sincerely and graciously, to read for me. Just knowing that someone had my back like that, would stand in for me without a second thought, gave me a little more courage.

“Three days before he passed away he said he wanted to go on the Owyhee River,” Terry said. “I just said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great goal.’ But you have to wonder, someone who was as sick as he was toward the end, where does this optimism come from? That is something that always amazed me about Andrew, this incredible optimism. He just always had this curiosity. He had that curiosity until the day he died. He said to a friend that dying wasn’t that unpleasant. I asked him a week before, ‘Why am I more upset about this than you?’ And he said, ‘Because I’ve come to terms that I have a terminal disease.’ ‘I’ve had a good run,’ is how he put it to a friend.”

Indeed he did. Andrew lived life with zest, and he died with dignity.

And that’s how he’ll be remembered. It’s why, as much as the community mourns his loss, people think of Andrew with a smile. A laugh. It was that something he said, that one poem, that day at the beach, on the river, in the surf.

It was Andrew.

• Join Terry and Andrew’s friends and family at the Newport Performing Arts Center on Feb. 4 at 7 pm for the celebration of Andrew’s life.


Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.

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